Microcurrent Facial Devices: How They Work and Which to Use

Give your face a workout with these editor-approved microcurrent gadgets.

woman with toned skin and natural hair
(Image credit: Arturo Holmes)

Not quite ready to go under the knife for a facelift, but can’t bear the idea of wearing your hair in a painfully tight snatched ponytail another day? Enter: the best microcurrent facial devices. While medical-grade machines are used to lift and tone during professional facials, at-home innovations have changed the game. Brands like NuFace, Foreo, and Ziip (to name a few) have whipped up handheld tools that give similar results. "Microcurrent therapy uses low-level electric voltage to stimulate the muscles in the face," explains board-certified dermatologist Dr. Karen Lal. It feels a little bit like an under-the-skin twitch, but the thought is that it’s like a little workout for your face. The result? A tighter-looking, more sculpted complexion.

But let's be real: at-home microcurrent devices are expensive. If you’re going to shell out a couple hundred dollars, you want to be sure that the tool is worth the hype—and know exactly how to use it. Below, we’re explaining exactly what microcurrent devices do, who they work best for, how to incorporate them into your skincare routine, and the best at-home microcurrent devices to shop.

The Benefits of Microcurrent Therapy

As time goes on, the muscle system that coordinates our facial expressions becomes weaker, leading to sagging and drooping. "This therapy stimulates this system, causing the muscles to perk up. This therapy is often used in physical therapy and has been shown in studies to promote wound healing," Dr. Lal says.

While an in-office treatment will offer more dramatic results, regular at-home microcurrent treatments can result in tighter, more lifted-looking skin.

How to Use an At-Home Microcurrent Device

While instructions for how to use microcurrent facial devices will vary from product to product, there are a few commonalities. You'll always want to start with clean skin. After washing your face, apply the conductive gel that accompanies your tool. The jelly-like activator is key—it helps the microcurrent reach your muscles. 

How Long Does It Take for At-Home Microcurrent Therapy to Work?

It's important to manage expectations when using a microcurrent device. While consistent use over time will create a lifted appearance, the results are not permanent. If you're looking for a one-and-done solution or dramatic fix, a face lift or injections are likely better options. 

"Most facial massages will decrease inflammation, swelling, and provide some level of lift, all of which is temporary," says Dr. Lal. "Just like exercise, gains aren’t made overnight and persistence is key."

The Difference Between At-Home and In-Office Treatments

"In office treatments are expensive and results are transient," warns Dr. Lal. "Most practitioners recommend a series of beginning treatments followed by maintenance treatments and the cost adds up."

While at-home devices aren't as powerful or targeted as in-office facials, they'll likely save you money in the long run. "For people who are persistent, they may prove to be more economical than in-office treatments," Dr. Lal says. 

The Risks of Microcurrent Therapy

Microcurrent therapy is considered "relatively safe," according to 2021 research, and is pretty painless. But it's important to make sure you're still keeping up with the rest of your skincare routine. "People who have perfected creating a skincare regimen with SPF, a retinoid, and antioxidants that are looking for a low-risk way of improving skin firmness are good candidates for microcurrent therapy," says Dr. Lal.

The Best Microcurrent Facial Devices

Meet the Dermatologist

Dr. Karan Lal

Dr. Karan Lal is a board-certified dermatologist. Originally from New York City, he grew up in Queens and attended Hunter Science High School in Manhattan. He graduated summa cum laude from the New York Institute of Technology, where he completed a rigorous seven-year accelerated combined medical program. He was selected to be an academic medical scholar, during which he received a Master of Science in neuroscience and a scholarship for three years of medical school and graduate training. He was elected to the Sigma Sigma Phi and Psi Sigma Alpha medical honor societies. He completed his internal medicine internship at the University of Connecticut Medical Center where he was elected intern of the year. He completed a three-year dermatology residency at the University of Massachusetts, where he was elected chief resident. He continued on at the University of Massachusetts to complete a pediatric dermatology fellowship, where he gained an interest in vascular anomalies, pediatric laser, and dermatologic surgery of pediatric patients. Dr. Lal specializes in pediatric and adult dermatology, laser surgery, soft tissue filler augmentation, body sculpting, pigmentary abnormalities of the skin and enjoys treating patients from birth onwards.

Samantha Holender
Beauty Editor

Samantha Holender is the Beauty Editor at Marie Claire, where she reports on the best new launches, dives into the science behind skincare, and keeps up with the latest trends in the beauty space. She has previously written for Us Weekly, Popsugar, Makeup.com, Skincare.com, and Philadelphia Wedding. Follow her on Instagram @samholender.